Monday, June 22, 2009

“and what if that doesn’t work?”

The subject today is… ”Business can regulate itself in this market economy.”
True…or false?

Well, for the average individual the hip shot answer is “False, damn you and my depleted 401k account too!” but to actually articulate the reason for the false answer requires a lot more detail information than the quite understandably rational, yet emotional response that I, and I’m sure you have when it comes to that which is near and dear to our livelihoods…our collective financial future.

The problem is that what we are currently facing isn’t so much that business is evil, but rather that business is business and will act in its own self interest…at best.
At worst, for the sole interests of the individual corporate managers who have shown a rapacious appetite not just for monetary power, but for political power to keep their position secured from any form of accountability by you, me, or the government.
The examples of this throughout our history are replete dating way back to the 1800’s with the railroad barons, then to the banking industry of the early 1900’s, to the collapse of Wall Street in the 1930’s, to the late 80’s early 90’s S&L disasters, to today’s bottom falling out from the entire financial industry. And of course we have done the sane thing…we threw some form of legislative regulation at the problem each time hoping that the legislation will be…enough.
And of course…it never is.
If it was…we wouldn’t be here sobbing over our portfolios.
So no, business can never regulate itself because regulation and the spirit of business are two . very . separate . ideologies.
World views if you will allow that distinction.
How do we define the distinction between the two?
The Japanese model of business was, is, and continues to be a form of warfare, just without traditional weapons. And so too has our national business institutions have come to accept that in truth, business is like warfare. In short, company’s have become the new nation states, their MBA’s their soldiers, and the other companies…either short term allies…or the next conquest.
So, if you think about it, business, unlike the current U.S. military policy, is about Total War.
Business then is survival of the fittest.
Darwin would be proud…if he would stop rolling over in his grave every time I misappropriated his thesis for my pet subjects.
So, what does regulation do?
Or, more appropriately, suppose to do?
Regulation is suppose to prevent monopolies, it’s also suppose to prevent perfidy of those in the know against those who are completely and totally clueless about how the financial world operates, which would be pretty much all of us.
Regulation also forces the management of the banks to be accountable, even when they duck accountability by blaming everyone who had nothing to do with their mismanagement in the first place. But most of all Regulation protects Joe and Jane average from the predations of the Businesses who will not hesitate to bend the two over at the waist and ride herd on them till their broke.
So we now can approach the question with some knowledge and that is Business “will” not regulate itself because any form of regulation is considered a detriment to their over all war plan, and thus, must either be neutralized, or ignored.
And of course, the past 100+ years of economic history has born this out.
And so, that is why we will continue to have problems in our economy.
Not because the will to regulate doesn’t exist, but because whatever regulation that is legislated into the market economy will be neutralized by the corporations as soon as the ink dries.
Which brings us to… ”what can we do?”
Well, good question, but the historical evidence stands that whatever clever institutions we assemble to regulate the business institutions are subject to the whims of the political party that is currently seeking to rule.
Sorry, I shouldn’t use the word rule…but at this time…it seems appropriate.
Each and every regulatory edifice that has been constructed has been obstructed, or of little use other than to validate the evolving system of conquest…er, I mean, transactions that are being employed by the very institutions that the regulatory park statue is suppose to prevent.
As to what can be done…I will save that for the comments section…but so far…we have lots of regulatory statues collecting a lot of pigeon droppings, and considering the end result, we now know how useless they have been.
Well, not entirely true, perhaps they'll serve as a reminder that doing something for something’s sake usually ends up doing…nothing.


  1. Sheer-

    To me, the current crisis is a result of ideology trumping pragmatism. You are correct that the vestiges of regulatory bodies that weren't dismembered by Regan, Clinton, Bush still failed to regulate. Nothing was more pathetic than Alan Greenspan expressing his shock that his belief in business never doing anything self harmful was wrong. I have seen kids less traumatized when learning that Santa or the Tooth Fairy aren't real.

    Unfortunately, there is wealth to be amassed, and it can be amassed in the sort run quite handily at times. Why worry about the long run if you can get yours now? I have posted before and I post again, in our American society, the desires of the individual trumps the collective well being.

    If you want to see theater of the self-serving absurd, just watch the health care debate unfold. Better that 50 million Americans should go without health insurance than medical industry profits be reduced.

    Yup- we're screwed!


  2. I'd also argue that any particular time in our history, enforcing regulations also depends upon political expediency.

    After all, a new president wouldn't want to have his version of the US government be too hard on the Wall Street moguls whose money and support helped get his rear end into the Oval Office, would he?

    IMHO, we're not really so much a nation of laws as much as a nation of expediency.

    Much like the traffic cop who nails the nondescript kid for 5 mph over the limit but lets his boss' kid or the mayor's kid slide for being 20 mph over.

    Not that that has ever happened to me, you understand?


  3. You're basically right that the marketplace cannot regulate itself. Everybody in the market seeks a competitive advantage and it's just too unlikely that all of those competitive advantages will neutralize each other in ways that aren't harmful to the consumer.

    I'd argue that over the long haul we, as a society, are slowly getting better at understanding how to prevent financial disasters but there has been a lot of backsliding lately.

    Hopefully a combination of re-enforcing reasonable regulations combined with stinging memories of how STUPID we were will keep this whole mess from happening for another 75 years or so.

    Last fall I was arguing against bailing out any of the banks on the grounds that we needed a massive object lesson in how greed can kill you with the corpses of all but one or two of the major banks lying around as a reminder. I was probably too harsh then because I underestimated how painful such a complete collapse would be.

    I guess I'll have to settle for watching bank presidents getting called up to the Hill every week to be insulted and prodded by our idiot Congress.

  4. I don't really understand economics. Bit I think that the people who DO understand "business" would argue that business, markets and economies are not inherently "good" or "evil". The problem we're facing today, as Al points out, comes largely from the fact that the people who set the terms of engagement for the economy - and that would be Reagan's people, the free-marketeers, the same people (like Greenspan) who have controlled the debate for the past thirty years - forgot that. They were so spun up about the "wisdom" and "efficiency" of the markets that they forgot that those qualities had been forced into them by prudent oversight and regulation.

    No sane sports fan would want a soccer match without rules, a referee and linesmen. No driver would want a road without signs, lanes and a traffic cop. No shopper would buy lettuce from a store whose produce scales weren't inspected and certified, or a house from a builder who wasn't licensed or had the proper inspections. But somehow the GOP and their Clinton/DLC cronies convinced us that multi-billion dollar markets would function just fine without oversight or regulation.

    Markets are like axes; you can use them to cut down a tree to warm your home, or you can use them to cut off your neighbor's head. The wise old men (and some women) inside the Beltway did their best to pretend that the market axe COULD only be used for good, shooing the Robber Barons, Teapot Dome and the Keating Five behind the curtain.

    And we, in our greed and ignorance, to our shame, did nothing.

    So to me the REALLY infuriating part is not what happened in the financial markets. That was just little boys playing in the mud; which is what happens when the adults stop disciplining them for mudslinging. No, it is the reality that, having had our noses rubbed in the Depression mud, the mud that motivated our great-grandparents and grandparents to throw a choke-collar on the malefactors of great wealth and forced them to give up their foolish and greedy games in return for a federal imprimatur to operate at a slower, lower pace more conducive to the general good, we have done nothing of the sort. Thus ensuring a return to the boom and panic economies of the 19th Century and a further progression down the road to the society of few ultra-wealthy and many poor implicit in ou New Gilded Age.

    Shame on us - WASF.

  5. Well, good points all, and I would like to add that when the "choke-collar" was applied way back when under Rosevelt the economy went on a steady climb...what a concept...a regulation that actually worked.
    However, if you look at who opposed and sought to undo those regulations...well, they would be the same people who kick and scream about free-markets, zero-regulation, the industry can regulate itself...etc...etc...etc.
    The problem with the Republicans is that all their batshit theories have been implemented, and those theories just plain fall apart in practice.
    "Give it a chance!" they howl, and yet herein today, the country in a shambles, the economy in the tank, we're beat to hell and past, and the Republicans are boo-fucking-hoo'ing about how they need more time.
    Sorry, fool me once, shame on them, fool me twice, shame on me.
    There is no way I'll ever vote for another Republican ever again.
    I just look right over them on the ballots now. As far as I'm concerned, they are in the same league as the Green party...hmm...ya, know, I'm going to have to amend that thought.
    I'm going to say that the Republicans have bumped up the Green party to a higher status, and marginalized themselves out of future consideration.